Contemporary Tamil Dalit Feminist Poetics

  • Pramila Venkateswaran Nassau Community College, New York


Contemporary Tamil Dalit feminist poets challenge dominant ideas in mainstream Hinduism with its inscribed caste and gender discriminations oppressing Dalits. Writing in the spoken Tamil familiar to all Tamil speaking people, they address the struggles of Dalit women in daily life, their sexual oppression, and their desire for autonomy. I examine the social and political themes and aesthetics of Tamil Dalit feminist poetry in the light of the rationalist and materialist theories of Dr. Ambedkar and E.V. Ramasamy Naicker (known as Periyar). Poets such as, Meena Kandasamy, Sukirtharani, Malathy Maithri, Ku Uma Devi, and N.D. Rajkumar write on themes of sexuality, caste oppression, and gender oppression, thus openly defying assumptions about Dalit women and challenging caste dominant rules of poetry, society and language. These poets’ concerns can be traced to the lineage of Dalit song traditions which were ceremonial and political, as well as the anti-caste movement in Tamil Nadu led by Periyar. Today’s Dalit feminist poets in Tamil Nadu continue to be energised by Periyar’s challenge to nationalist politics, decolonising hegemonic gender and caste ideologies. They use imagination and logic to articulate their challenge to caste hegemony and present the interconnection of land, body and sexuality, thus claiming their subjectivity.

Keywords: Dalit feminist poetics, caste and gender oppression, rationalist and materialist theories of Ambedkar and Periyar, decolonisation, claiming subjectivity